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Business Disability Forum (BDF) has published a new global guide this month showing how all businesses can make their built environments accessible to the one billion people in world who have a disability.

Having a disability can affect how a person accesses, navigates, and uses the spaces and structures around them. Built environments include everything from entrances, exits, stairs, lifts, signage, to parking, green spaces, roads, and transport systems.

BDF’s guide covers what an inclusive built environment is, why creating inclusive environments is important for disabled people and business, the challenges facing global businesses when creating accessible and inclusive spaces, and how to create an inclusive built environment strategy.

The free guidance is aimed at anyone involved in influencing and making decisions about an organisation’s built spaces, especially at a global level. This includes senior leaders, estate management teams, health, safety and environment professionals, as well as HR and diversity and inclusion professionals.

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The guide notes that employees should be given training on accessibility and setting up specific assistive technology as it reads: “All staff must receive appropriate training on what accessibility means and how they can support it in their role. Training should be suitable for the position. For example, customer-facing staff such as reception and security teams may require more focused training on managing accessibility for visitors effectively and sensitively. It may be more specific for others, such as guiding a person with sight loss or setting up specific equipment such as hearing loops.​”

Sponsored by HSBC, ‘Access for all: Creating inclusive global built environments’ is a timely report which aims to help businesses think about how they build back better post-COVID-19.

Michelle Hey, Global Head of Corporate Services, HSBC, commented: “The benefits of accessible and inclusive workplaces are multiple and well proven.

“They support improved customer service, employee engagement, and the recruitment and retention of talent.

“The guidance provided by Business Disability Forum in this report is an excellent way for all organisations to embrace the change that is needed.

“That’s why HSBC is a proud sponsor of this report and I would like to thank Business Disability Forum and all those who contributed to its development for the clear and pragmatic advice it provides.”

The research considers the needs of disabled people when accessing spaces whether as a visitor, employee, customer, client or contractor. It also highlights the vital role of an inclusive design approach in creating environments that work for everyone.

Speaking about the importance of the new report, Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum, said: “Everyone should be able to access buildings and enjoy spaces, regardless of disability.

“Creating spaces which are inclusive and accessible for people with disabilities can also help businesses to attract and retain employees and customers.

“Increasing efficiency and productivity, supporting sustainability, ensuring legal compliance, and enhancing the reputation, are just some of the benefits for business of building inclusively.

“We know that developing a global built environment strategy can present challenges and the size of the task can seem overwhelming.

“We hope our new guide will give businesses the courage to take the first step and the tools to create spaces that work for everyone – wherever they are in the world.”

Based on the experiences of leading global organisations, the guide details some of the major challenges that businesses can face when creating inclusive spaces at a global level.

Challenges could include: securing senior buy-in, diversity of location, diversity of cultures, beliefs, and languages, conflicting disability requirements.

The research offers guidance on how to overcome these challenges through the creation of a global built environment strategy.

The guidance advocates for a framework which balances global consistency with local flexibility, focuses on inclusive design and genuine user engagement, and draws on best practice.

Several BDF Members and Partners helped to inform the research. These include HSBC, GSK, Unilever, Freeney Williams, State Street, and Eli Lilly.

Access for all: Creating inclusive global built environments’ can be accessed on Business Disability Forum’s Knowledge Hub.

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